Tag Archives: tectonic plate

Scientists resurrect mysterious missing tectonic plate beneath Canada

Plate tectonic reconstruction of western North America 60 million years ago showing subduction of three key tectonic plates, Kula, Farallon and Resurrection. Credit: University of Houston.

The Pacific Plate is the largest of Earth’s 17 currently known tectonic plates. However, during the Cenozoic Era about 60 million years ago, the Pacific Basin consisted of some other tectonic plates that have since subducted into Earth’s mantle. Geologists have always known about two plates in the Pacific Ocean during this era, known as Kula and Farallon. Now, in a new study, researchers have confirmed the existence of a previously proposed third ancient Pacific plate called Resurrection.

Reverse engineering tectonic movements

Tectonic plates glide over Earth’s mantle, in the outermost shell known as the lithosphere. These plates can be thought of like pieces of a cracked shell that rest on the hot, molten rock of Earth’s mantle and fit snugly against one another.

Across the eons, tectonic plates have changed significantly. When two such plates come together, one of them has to give in. Kula and Farallon, both oceanic plates under the northern Pacific Ocean, sunk under the North American plate millions of years ago.

The fate of Ressurection, which is believed to have formed a special type of volcanic belt along the coast of Alaska and Washington State, had until now been a matter of contention.

“We believe we have direct evidence that the Resurrection plate existed. We are also trying to solve a debate and advocate for which side our data supports,” Spencer Fuston, a third-year geology doctoral student at the University of Houston, said in a statement.

Jonny Wu (left), assistant professor of geology in the UH Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Spencer Fuston, a third-year geology doctoral student, applied slab unfolding to reconstruct what tectonic plates below the Pacific Ocean looked like during the Cenozoic Era. Credit: Houston University.

The geologists at the University of Houston analyzed existing mantle tomography images, which are like a CT scan of the Earth’s interior. They employed a technique called slab unfolding that essentially turns back the clock, enabling the researchers to reconstruct what tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean looked like millions of years ago.

This 3D mapping technique pulled out subducted plates, stretching them to their original shapes. Volcanoes are known to form right at the boundaries of tectonic plates, and the boundaries of the reconstructed Resurrection plate match well with the location of ancient volcanic belts in northern Canada.

In the animation below, you can see how the Kula, Farallon, and Resurrection tectonic plates sunk beneath the North American Plate 60 million years ago to the present day.

Since volcanoes heavily impact the climate, this method could prove useful in modeling the earth and its past climate.

The findings appeared in the journal GSA Bulletin.

tectonic plate

New tectonic plate discovered off the cost of Ecuador

A new study has revealed a new tectonic microplate — there are now 57 in total.

tectonic plate

Misfit plates in the Pacific led Rice University scientists to the discovery of the Malpelo Plate between the Galapagos Islands and the South American coast. Image credits: Tuo Zhang

 

A tectonic puzzle

Sometime during the late 1950s, a rather quirky theory started picking up steam. The idea was that the Earth’s crust, everything we live on and see at the surface, is broken up into bits and pieces that move in relation to each other. These plates lie on the lithosphere and are pushed around by upwelling mantle. Sometimes they emerge, sometimes they subduce beneath each other, but usually, they just move past each other. These are the tectonic plates.

Nowadays, we know of eight major tectonic plates (with an area greater than 20 million km2), and it’s highly unlikely that we will ever discover a new one on Earth. We also know of ten minor tectonic plates (area between 1 and 20 million km2) and we’ve probably found all of them too. The rest, however, are the microplates — tectonic plates with an area less than 1 million km2 — and there’s a good chance a few of these are still lying around undiscovered.

This was reported by lead author Tuo Zhang and co-authors Jay Mishra and Chengzu Wang, all of Rice University, in a new study. They’ve discovered a new microplate off the coast of Ecuador. They’ve named it Malpelo, after an island and an oceanic ridge it contains.

Tectonic plate of the world, not including all plates. Image via NASA.

A new piece

The three were studying the junction between three other plates in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The plates move on the mantle, which behaves as a fluid (in geological time). Since they are all connected like puzzle pieces, when one moves, it affects all others. So researchers sometimes study the rotation speed of each object in a group of plates (the angular velocity). That’s when they realized something wasn’t alright in this case.

“When you add up the angular velocities of these three plates, they ought to sum to zero,” Gordon said. “In this case, the velocity doesn’t sum to zero at all. It sums to 15 millimeters a year, which is huge.”

This meant that there was something else they weren’t considering — a misfit. Misfits are interesting because they tell us there’s something we’re not considering in the system. So they drew data from a Columbia University database of extensive multibeam sonar soundings west of Ecuador and Colombia to look for clues, and they found the extra plate.

Describing the plate

From left, Tuo Zhang, Richard Gordon and Chengzu Wang. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

Tectonic plates are often described by how they move relative to each other — whether one is ‘climbing’ over another, for instance. In this case, researchers identified a diffuse plate boundary that runs from the Panama Transform Fault eastward, to the newly discovered Malpelo plate.

“A diffuse boundary is best described as a series of many small, hard-to-spot faults rather than a ridge or transform fault that sharply defines the boundary of two plates,” Gordon said. “Because earthquakes along diffuse boundaries tend to be small and less frequent than along transform faults, there was little information in the seismic record to indicate this one’s presence.”

However, things still aren’t completely clear. When they took the new plate into consideration, the angular velocities still don’t add up to zero. Sure they’re much smaller, but there’s still something extra. If this is the case, then it could mean that there’s another plate (or plates) still waiting to be discovered.

“Since we’re trying to understand global deformation, we need to understand where the rest of that velocity is going,” he said. “So we think there’s another plate we’re missing.”

Journal Reference: Tuo Zhang, Richard G. Gordon, Jay K. Mishra, Chengzu Wang — The Malpelo Plate Hypothesis and Implications for Non-closure of the Cocos-Nazca-Pacific Plate Motion Circuit. DOI: 10.1002/2017GL073704

Scientists learn more about hair ice, after 100 years

You may have seen it in forests, and may have dismissed it as an eerie curiosity – a type of ice that looks like white silky hairs, a bit like candy floss. It only grows on rotten branches of trees under very specific conditions, during humid winter nights when the temperature drops just below 0 degrees Celsius. Scientists have believed it is caused by a fungus for over 100 years, but it wasn’t until now that this theory was actually proven.

Hair ice discovered on the forest floor near Brachbach, Germany. Credit: Gisela Preuß.

Alfred Wegener, the famous geophysicist who first proposed the theory of tectonic plates, first discovered white ice in 1918; he and his assistant identified it as a mycelium (the thin threads of mushroom growth), and for almost a century, no one paid any scientific interest to hair ice.

Some 90 years later, retired Swiss professor Gerhart Wagner showed that treating wood with fungicide prevents hair ice from growing, therefore confirming the idea. Now, another Swiss researcher wanted to find out more – and they did.

“When we saw hair ice for the first time on a forest walk, we were surprised by its beauty,” describes study co-author Christian Mätzler, who is from the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Bern in Switzerland. “Sparked by curiosity, we started investigating this phenomenon, at first using simple tests, such as letting hair ice melt in our hands until it melted completely.”

Screenshot via Youtube.

Mätzler, a physicist, teamed up with a chemist (Diana Hofmann) and a biologist (Gisela Preuß) in Germany. Inspired by earlier work, and by photographs of hair ice sent in from various countries, they performed several tests on the ice to see how it grows and how its structure develops. Preuß studied samples of hair-ice-bearing wood collected in the winters of 2012, 2013 and 2014 in forests near Brachbach in western Germany and found several different fungus species.

“One of them, Exidiopsis effusa, colonised all of our hair-ice-producing wood, and in more than half of the samples, it was the only species present,” she says.

Hair ice in forest near Moosseedorf, Switzerland. Credit: Christian Mätzler.

Mätzler’s contribution was understanding the physics of the ice. His work confirmed guesses made by previous researchers, showing that the mechanism that creates the ice filaments at the wood surface is ice segregation.

“The process of Ice Segregation takes place in a porous medium when supercooled water moves to the presence of ice and adds to the ice through freezing. In this case the ice grows away from the ice/water interface,” writes Dr. James R. Carter a professor at the Illinois State University who was not involved in the study.

Interestingly, the fungus formation doesn’t affect the quantity of ice in any way – only its structure.

“The same amount of ice is produced on wood with or without fungal activity, but without this activity the ice forms a crust-like structure. The action of the fungus is to enable the ice to form thin hairs – with a diameter of about 0.01 mm – and to keep this shape over many hours at temperatures close to 0°C. Our hypothesis includes that the hairs are stabilised by a recrystallisation inhibitor that is provided by the fungus.”

Image via Btween Blinks

Hoffman then studied the hair ice itself, chemically. She found that the ice contained fragments of complex organic molecules – lignin and tannin – involved in fungus metabolism, further confirming the fungal effect.

It took over 100 years to confirm Wegener’s theories about hair ice, a fairly common phenomenon; this can makes me wonder, how many other common things are still waiting to be understood in our forests.

Journal Reference.

Project drills deep in New Zealand to understand and predict earthquakes

For the first time, geophysicist in New Zealand will place seismic sensors deep into a geological fault to record the build-up and occurrence of massive earthquakes, potentially giving crucial  information about one of the biggest faults in the world.

It’s hard to say anything after such an insightful and well explained video. The Alpine Fault runs for about 600 kilometres along the west coast of South Island, marking the boundary between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. It is a planar discontinuity over a huge volume of rock, across which there has been significant displacement – see the mountains.

Every year, the two tectonic plates slide by each other by about 2.5 centimeters; it may not seem like much, but just think of the incredibly massive volumes which are sliding this way, creating friction and building up pressure – and just think what the effects will be over hundreds of years. Geologists are confident that the fault is “ready to break in its next earthquake” — with a 28% chance of a rupture in the coming 50 years, which is another reason why this project is so important.

“If we go on to record the next earthquake, then our experiment will be very, very special,” says Rupert Sutherland, a tectonic geologist at New Zealand’s Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences in Lower Hutt, and one of the project’s leaders. “A complete record of events leading up to and during a large earthquake could provide a basis for earthquake forecasting in other geological faults.”

The costs of the project are $2 million, which are not that high when you consider the potential implications. The first step is to collect geological samples, then dig a shallow borehole and insert sensors into it. The hole will then be deepened and strengthened, and after this, more seismic sensors will be added. This will hopefully be done by December. Then, the data will be directly analyzed and inserted into computer models of faults, in order to better understand when and how faults break, and how this is foreshadowed.

For example, one idea is that large differences in groundwater pressures on either side of the fault zone could indicate that a big quake is imminent.

“The fault appears to currently form an impermeable barrier, and it’s likely that time-dependent differences in groundwater pressure on either side of the fault play a role in governing earthquake nucleation processes and the radiation of seismic waves,” says John Townend, a seismologist at Victoria University of Wellington, who is part of the project.

Pakistan earthquake claims 45 lives, creates an island

The Earthquake

A major earthquake hit a remote part of Pakistan (near the border with Iran), claiming 45 lives and prompting a new island to rise from the sea just off the country’s southern coast.

According to the USGS, the earthquake has a magnitude of 7.7 and tremors were felt all the way to New Delhi, the capital of India. It was so powerful that it caused the seabed to rise and create a small, mountain-like island about 600 meters off the coastline.

islands

Officials said numerous mud houses were destroyed by the main event and the aftershocks, but thankfully, the area was very scarcely populated, otherwise the casualties would have been even more numerous. It’s estimated that about 1/3 of all the impoverished houses were destroyed.

The tectonic environment

No fewer than four major tectonic plates (Arabia, Eurasia, India, and Africa) and one smaller tectonic block (Anatolia) are responsible for seismicity and tectonics in the Middle East and surrounding region. The geologic consequence is that subduction, large-scale transform faulting, compressional mountain building and crustal extension are relatively very common in the area.

The entire mountain range in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan is the result of compressional tectonics, and there are all type of earthquakes, from shallow (almost surface) events, to intermediate earthquakes, with epicenters of 300 km.

For a very well written description of the tectonic and geologic situation in the area, check this USGS page.

(c) Brown University

Ancient tectonic plate re-discovered beneath California

(c) Brown University

(c) Brown University

Millions of years ago, an ancient tectonic plate called the Farallon oceanic plate used to sit between the Pacific and North American plates. In time, the plate “disappeared” beneath the North American one, however geologists at Brown University have now found physical surface remnants of the plate under sections of central California and Mexico. The Farallon surface fragments may now explain a seismic anomaly in the region that has eluded scientists for some time.

Though they used to be spaced apart by the Farallon plate, currently the North American and Pacific tectonic plates are joined through a continental transform fault known as the San Andreas fault. In the process the Farallon plate was forced underneath the North American one through subduction, leaving a few small remnants at the surface that became part of the Pacific plate.

Research carried out by Brown University geologists has revealed however that bits of the Farallon plate have remained attached at the surface. Surprisingly part of Mexico’s Baja region as well as a considerable landmass in central California rest upon slabs of this ancient plate.

Oddly enough, close to the region a seismic anomaly has been registered in the Sierra Nevada mountains in the Golden State. Dubbed the  Isabella anomaly, it suggests that a sizable mass of relatively cool and dehydrated material is present at a depth of 100 to kilometers below the Earth’s surface. This was found after many years ago geologists mapped out the region many miles beneath the earth’s surface by transforming seismic waves that can be fast or slow into actual images. These seismic waves travel at velocities varying according to the materials they encounter.

For some time, geologists have been trying to explain this peculiarity and many theories have been proposed to justify it, like delamination – the breaking of  the lithospheric plate under the mountains. High-magnesium andesite deposits on the surface near the eastern edge of the anomaly found by the Brown researchers, often linked to the melting of the oceanic crust, provided evidence, however, that in fact the Farallon plate broke off and melted into the mantle.

This evidence convinced Brown geophysicist Donald Forsyth and his collaborators that the Isabella anomaly might also be part of a slab connected to an unsubducted fragment of the Farallon plate. The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, might warrant a new investigation into the ancient plate tectonics of western North America, especially considering the region is extremely seismically active.

“The geometry was the kicker,” Forsyth said. “The way they line up just makes sense.”

“However the Sierra Nevada was delaminated,” Forsyth said, “it’s probably not in the way that many people had been thinking.”

6.4 earthquake off the coast of Baja, California

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported an undersea earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 some 142 kilometers off the coast of Baja, California. The earthquake had its origin at approximately 10 km below surface level and so far, no tsunami warning has been issues.

 

Tectonic setting

Sitting ontop of three of the large tectonic plates, Mexico is one of the world’s most seismologically active regions. The plates move relative to each other, and this relative motion causes many earthquakes and even volcanic eruptions.

“Most of the Mexican landmass is on the westward moving North American plate. The Pacific Ocean floor south of Mexico is being carried northeastward by the underlying Cocos plate.”, USGS explained.

Next, you should know that there are two types of crust – oceanic and continental; oceanic crust is denser and heavier than the continental one, and as a result, the ocean floor is subducted beneath the North American plate creating the deep Middle American trench. This subduction is, of course, not smooth, and it generates a lot of tension and seismic energy. As the oceanic plate is pushed downward, it melts, and as it melts, the molten material is then forced upward through weaknesses in the overlying continental crust – which creates a series of volcanoes known as the Cordillera Neovolcánica.

A warning

These past few years have been marked by several devastating earthquakes – including the big one in Japan that took both the population and the researchers by surprise and the devastating one in the Indian Ocean, for example. The US however, doesn’t seem ready to heed these warnings, even though many seismologists have explained that Los Angeles is way overdue for a big earthquake.

Hopefully, Americans (and not only them) will learn from the tragic experiences suffered by others, to minimize any seismic damage which will happen in the future.

Via USGS

Office workers gather on the sidewalk in downtown Washington, Tuesday, moments after a 5.9 magnitude tremor shook the nation's capitol. (c) J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

5.9 earthquake hits the US East Coast

A small, yet frightening earthquake, registered at 5.9 magnitude, sent shivers down people’s spines all the way from Ottawa, Canada to North Carolina as it hit the North American east coast.

Office workers gather on the sidewalk in downtown Washington, Tuesday, moments after a 5.9 magnitude tremor shook the nation's capitol. (c) J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Office workers gather on the sidewalk in downtown Washington, Tuesday, moments after a 5.9 magnitude tremor shook the nation's capitol. (c) J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

The earthquake first caused ground shacking at 1:51 p.m. ET, when it measured 5.9 in magnitude and lasted only 45 seconds, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Now, although the earthquake was fairly weak and, luckily, uneventful damage-wise it produced a lot of panic, mostly because of the more powerful shacking, despite the low magnitude. The epicenter was registered 4 miles southwest of Mineral, Va., near Richmond, Va., just about 80 miles south of Washington, D.C., however the depth of the quake was only 0.6 miles which explains the afformentioned shacking.

No injuries or damages have been reported thus far, despite this the east coast quake managed to unleash a mass hysteria. Verizon Wireless, AT&T and Sprint say their networks were congested as the quake sent people scrambling for the phones. Nevermind twitter, which was simply flooded with millions of quake reports in mere seconds as people quickly turned to their mobile phones. A lot of buildings throughout major metropolitan centers in the northeast were evacuated after the quake, in sight of a possible upcoming after-shock, and nuclear reactors at the North Anna Power Station in Louisa County, Virginia, were automatically taken off line by safety systems around the time of the earthquake.

US citizens are generally prepared for quakes, in the west coast that is. Earthquakes are so rare on the left side of the Atlantic that the whole event caught everybody off guard, which just goes to say how unpredictable quakes really are.

“It’s very unusual for an earthquake of this size on the East Coast,” said Thomas Hillman Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, in a telephone interview. “It’s a moderate size earthquake, and on the East Coast they tend to be felt over a much larger area.”

“This is a good reminder that even on the East Coast you want to be prepared,” he said.

People stand on the streets of Washington, Aug. 23, 2011, after evacuating from buildings following a 5.9 earthquake that hit northwest of Richmond, Va., shaking much of Washington, D.C., and felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City. (c) Charles Dharapak/AP

People stand on the streets of Washington, Aug. 23, 2011, after evacuating from buildings following a 5.9 earthquake that hit northwest of Richmond, Va., shaking much of Washington, D.C., and felt as far north as Rhode Island and New York City. (c) Charles Dharapak/AP

The epicenter is located right in the middle of the North American continental crustal plat. The area around it, however, bears the scars left over from 200-300 million years ago when it used to be an active earthquake zone, at a time when the Atlantic Ocean rifted apart from Europe.

“Central Virginia does get its share of minor earthquakes, but an earthquake of this size on the East Coast is certainly very unusual,” says seismologist Karen Fischer of Brown University.

“We are just seeing pressure build up and release on those scars,” Fischer says. “There is a lot of debate on exactly what is going on down there and exactly how quakes this big happen in this kind of crustal zone.”

As important follow-up news of the event occur, this page will be updated to reflect them. Stay tuned for coverage.

Underwater volcanoes beneath the Antarctic seas. The peak in the foreground is thought to be the most active, with eruptions in the past few years. (c) British Antarctic Survey

Hugely tall underwater volcanos discovered

In the first ever-survey of its kind, geologists have managed to discover a chain of massive underwater volcanoes, some as tall as 2 miles, underneath the Antarctic waters near the South Sandwich Islands in the remote Atlantic Ocean.

The South Sandwich Islands have always been known for their evident volcanic activity, ever since their discovery by famous explorer Captain Cook in 1775. What happens beneath the islands however remained more or less ignored, until recently when scientists mapped in great detail the area of the seafloor around these islands.

Underwater volcanoes beneath the Antarctic seas. The peak in the foreground is thought to be the most active, with eruptions in the past few years. (c) British Antarctic Survey

Underwater volcanoes beneath the Antarctic seas. The peak in the foreground is thought to be the most active, with eruptions in the past few years. (c) British Antarctic Survey

Scientists used sonar scanners to trace each shape and slope of the volcanoes, which fed them back some incredible data – 12 new undersea volcanoes, some topping even two miles. Some are still active, while others have been found collapsed in craters as large as 3 miles.

The volcanoes came as a consequences, scientists claim, of the tectonic dance between the South American continental plate sliding under the South Sandwich plate to the east. Water gets slipped beneath one of the plates and deep into the interior of the earth, from where it escapes upward, springing a molten rock eruption along the way.

Underwater volcanoes form parallel to the plane lines and as they steadily build up, they form new crust which will eventually someday after millions of year link with a continent. Scientists hope to learn more by studying the process in greater detail, and gain a greater grasp upon the formation of continents.

“We have GPS data to show that the South Sandwich Islands are moving east very fast indeed with respect to Africa,” Ian Dalziel of the University of Texas at Austin said. “It’s a very active system.”

Researchers warn however that underwater volcanoes could cause highly damaging tsunamis, since such volcanoes often have unstable slopes.

“This is quite well known,” Phil Leats of the British Antarctic Survey who led the new efforts said “Clearly this has happened in this area. We can see the scars. We can see the quite large slump deposits, which must have caused quite large tsunamis, so clearly it’s an area where this kind of hazard does exist.”

The survey was made by the  British Antarctic Survey.

via

Quartz may be key to plate tectonics

Plate tectonics is one of the most important theories, from the point of view of its practical effects on society – just look at the earthquake in Japan, or the iminent one in California, for example. More than 40 years ago, a man named J. Tuzo Wilson published a paper in Nature, describing how ocean basins open and close, in what is taught today in every geology course as the Wilson cycle. Basically, some ocean basins will shrink and become seas, or even disappear, and some sea basins will become ocean basins.

His observations, known today as the “Wilson Tectonic Cycle” suggested that this process took place numerous times in Earth’s troubled history, most recently when the supercontinent Pangaea split into the continents we know today. Wilson’s ideas are extremely important for plate tectonics, as well as the processes which lie at the very core of earthquake formation and mountain genesis.

Since his paper was published in 1967, pretty much every study conducted on the topic supported this idea, but few managed to bring additional information. Now, new findings by Utah State University geophysicist Tony Lowry and colleague Marta Pérez-Gussinyé of Royal Holloway, University of London offered an interesting point of view on the whole subject.

“It all begins with quartz,” says Lowry, who published results of the team’s recent study in the March 17 issue of Nature.

The scientists used and described a new way of measuring the properties of the rocks located beneath the deep crust. This way reveals events that cause the Earth’s surface to crack, fold and stretch, and it displays the key role played by quartz.

“If you’ve ever traveled westward from the Midwest’s Great Plains toward the Rocky Mountains, you may have wondered why the flat plains suddenly rise into steep peaks at a particular spot,” Lowry says. “It turns out that the crust beneath the plains has almost no quartz in it, whereas the Rockies are very quartz-rich.”

He believes that it’s exactly those belts of quartz that set in motion the chain of events which leads to the mountain building rock cycle.

“Earthquakes, mountain-building and other expressions of continental tectonics depend on how rocks flow in response to stress,” says Lowry. “We know that tectonics is a response to the effects of gravity, but we know less about rock flow properties and how they change from one location to another.”

“Over the last few decades, we’ve learned that high temperatures, water and abundant quartz are all critical factors in making rocks flow more easily,” Lowry says. “Until now, we haven’t had the tools to measure these factors and answer long-standing questions.”

But now, thanks to EarthScope, that has all changed.

“This intriguing study provides new insights into the processes driving large-scale continental deformation and dynamics,” says Greg Anderson, NSF program director for EarthScope. “These are key to understanding the assembly and evolution of continents.”

“We’ve combined Earthscope data with other geophysical measurements of gravity and surface heat flow in an entirely new way, one that allows us to separate the effects of temperature, water and quartz in the crust,” Lowry says.

They found that even at a low seismic velocity ratio, even after separating the temperatures, quartz-rich crust appears in pretty much the same places as high lower-crustal temperatures modeled independently from surface heat flow.

“That was a surprise,” he says. “We think this indicates a feedback cycle, where quartz starts the ball rolling.”

However, if the temperature and water are the same, rock flow will tend to focus on the quartz because that is the weak link.

“Rock, when it warms up, is forced to release water that’s otherwise chemically bound in crystals,” he says

More info about the Earth Scope Project here

Japan Earthquake causes Earth axis to tilt – shortens day!

As a consequence of last Friday’s devastating earthquake near the coast of Japan, the nation’s most powerful recorded earthquake to date actually since it began archiving results in the late 1800, scientists have assessed that the Earth axis has tilted by a few inches and that the chronological day has been shortened by a millionth of a second.

The link and explination of the phenomena from above to the recent earthquake/tsunami is that the shift of tectonic plates beneath the Pacific Ocean opened up a crack about 250 miles long, causing a good portion of Earth’s crust to tumble inside.

“There was a redistribution of an enormous amount of the Earth’s crust,” theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, with the City College of New York, told Discovery News. “It actually shortened the time of the day, and also shifted the axis of the Earth.”

“We know how much the Earth contracted as consequence of that, then you do the math,” Kaku said.

We all live busy lives, however I don’t think someone’s going to miss that millionth of a second we just lost for the days to come. What might prove to have the slightest of effects is the Earth’s axis tilt, which scientists apparently link to ice ages.

“There is still a scientific debate as to what causes ice ages,” Kaku said. “The leading theory is that there are tiny perturbations in the axis of the Earth as it turns around the sun that accumulate with time. These small shifts, this wobbling of the axis of the Earth may in fact cause ice ages.”

“Every century, we have several of these monster earthquakes so it’s hard to estimate exactly how much of an impact this earthquake would have on an ice age, for example,” Kaku added.

[image via clipartheaven. story via discovery]

Insects trapped in amber offer a precious glimpse on prehistoric bugs

Amber is not very common, but you can’t say it’s really uncommon either. Bugs in amber – that’s rare, but a huge “stash” such as the one that was found in India – that’s really something out of this world. The bug “collection” that was unearthed seems to suggest that the Indian continent was not really as isolated as previously thought. The findings were published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

“We know India was isolated, but … the biological evidence in the amber deposit shows that there was some biotic connection,” says David Grimaldi, curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the [American Museum of Natural History].

Here’s your basic tectonic for you: as you (should) know, the continents looked quite differently 150 million years ago than they do now. Back then, the Indian plate had just separated from the African one and started a journey towards Asia that would last 100 million years, during which the Indian subcontinent was quite isolated from the rest of the world. The fact that it was isolated allowed it to develop some unique and interesting species, including bugs such as the one in the pictures, that lived some 50 million years ago.

“The amber shows, similar to an old photo, what life looked like in India just before the collision with the Asian continent,” says Jes Rust, professor of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Universität Bonn in Germany. “The insects trapped in the fossil resin cast a new light on the history of the sub-continent.”

Many arthropodes are very similar to the ones found in Asia at the time, which leads to the logical conclusion that the two continents had some sort of connection even before they united. The other possibility would rock the scientific world even more, because it could only suggest that the two plates merged earlier than believed.

“They are so well preserved. It’s like having the complete dinosaur, not just the bones. You can see all the surface details on their bodies and wings. It’s fantastic,” Rust told the Guardian.

Just so you can make an idea about how big of a finding this is, it weighs around 150 kilograms and it is about 52 million years old. Not only do the insects give extremely valuable clues, but the amber itself has something to say. The original resin came from a tropical tree family called Dipterocarpaceae that today makes up about 80 percent of forest canopies in Southeast Asia, which makes the tree family and tropical forests in general twice as old as previously believed; and just think, all this, all of this amazing information can be taken from insects trapped in amber !

“The evidence is beginning to accumulate that tropical forests are ancient,” Grimaldi said. “They probably go back to right after the K-T boundary,” between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods 65 million years ago, when non-avian dinosaurs went extinct.